London has one of the largest urban transport networks in the world, with integrated bus, river and road systems. The main source of public transport in London revolves around the Underground or Tube train network which serves most of the London through different tube lines. Public transport system in London is easy to use, economical and fare collection system is transparent. Here is a list of public transport you can use in London during your visit;
The London Underground rail network, or “the Tube” is a great way to travel to and from central London. For the visitor to London the Underground or Tube will probably be the best transport option to get around. The Underground is normally the fastest way to get around the town, then the buses or the taxi. There are 11 Tube lines serving 270 stations and the Underground tube network is divided into nine zones. The Tube fare depends on zone and distance you travel, time of day, and how you pay. Oyster is the cheapest ways to pay for single fares.
London’s iconic double-decker buses are a quick, convenient and cheap way to travel around the city. Buses also offer plenty of sightseeing opportunities along the way. London buses are all cashless, so you need an Oyster card or Travelcard for fare payment. A single bus journey will cost you £1.50 and a day of bus-only travel will cost a maximum of £4.50. You can hop on unlimited buses or trams for free within one hour of starting your first journey on a single fare of £1.50.
Docklands Light Railway (DLR), Overground and TfL rail trains
London’s driverless Docklands Light Railway (DLR) serves parts of East London and the Docklands area. For ticketing purpose, you can treat this network as an extension of Underground line. In the suburbs you will find a train network called the Overground which can also be thought of as being part of the Underground for ticketing purposes. In the north and east of London most of these services are now run by TfL Rail (Crossrail in future) or the Overground. Oyster card is used for fare payment on DLR, overground and TfL trains.
River bus services
Travelling by river is a great way to get around London enjoying fantastic views along the way. Thames Clippers operate frequent river bus routes. Oyster cards and Visitor Oyster cards are accepted on Thames Clippers services. You will get discount in fares if you use oyster card. Fares vary according to river zones and children under five are free.
Trams run in parts of south London between Wimbledon, Croydon, Beckenham and New Addington. The services are frequent and is accessible to wheelchair users for free.
Emirates Air Line Cable Car
Take a ride on London’s only cable car, for views over Greenwich and East London, including The O2, Cutty Sark and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Using the cable car is an easy way to get from the Greenwich Peninsula to the Royal Docks. You can use your Oyster and Visitor Oyster card or a contactless payment card to pay for the trip.
Payment options for public transport in London
London public transport network including buses, underground, tram and rails are all cashless. Buying a single ticket for one journey is possible but it’s rare, you will be financially penalized very heavily. A one-way single ticket on the Underground in Central London is double that of an Oyster fare.
Travelcard may or may not be cheaper than the oyster card and all depends on individual use and requirements.
The Contactless payment card option is also available but not a good option for short-term overseas visitors, since you have to pay currency exchange and other charges for using your credit/debit card.
The Oyster card is an electronic smartcard used as a fare payment mechanism for public transport in London. The Oyster fare for any individual journey is the lowest fare available. An Oyster card allows you to travel between all parts of London on the Underground, Trams (DLR), Overground, some river boats, Emirates Air Line cable car and the iconic red London buses.
Investing a few minutes of your time understanding the Oyster system will make your travel around London more comfortable and cheaper.
To use an Oyster card, touch the card on the yellow reader at the gates as you enter and end your journey. This will ensure you pay the correct fare. If you don’t, you may get charged a penalty fare. You don’t need to touch out at the end of your journey on buses and trams, since they have the flat fare irrespective of the zone and distance. Cash is not accepted on any form of transport in London.
The Oyster daily price cap
Price caps are the maximum you will pay in a day. No matter how many individual trips you make in any 24-hour period between 4.30 AM to the next day 4.30 AM you will not be charged more than the price cap amount. This price cap spreads across all modes of transport.
Oyster cards & Visitors Oyster cards
There are two types of Oyster card. lf you buy in London you get the standard Oyster card, if you buy outside London including airport trains and National Express coaches, overseas agents and visa application centers you will get a Visitors Oyster card.
Oyster Card & Visitor Oyster card differences
- Oyster fares and caps are the same whether you use a standard Oyster or a Visitor Oyster card.
- Visitor Oyster cards you pay an activation fee of £ 5 which is non-refundable. lf you buy an Oyster card in London you pay a deposit of £ 5 which is refunded when you surrender/cancel the Oyster card.
- You can load travelcards only on standard Oyster cards. On Visitor Oyster cards you cannot load Travelcards. If you are in London for 5 plus days, having a 7-day Travelcard loaded on your Oyster can save you significant cash. Up to 5 days daily travel, oyster pay as you go card is good option.
- At the end of your trip with both Visitor Oyster cards and standard Oyster cards you can cancel at ticket machines or at a Visitor Centre and get any cash left on the Oyster refunded. We get refund for our oyster card at Heathrow airport but do remember that there is no refund facility at Gatwick Airport till now.
- A standard Oyster card can be registered online with your details, if you wish. In case of loss of oyster card, you can request a refund of cash left on your Oyster direct into your Bank account. Visitor Oyster cards cannot be registered.
- Visitor Oyster cards have “special offers” and discounts on shopping, dining and few other events relevant to visitors.
If you plan on returning to London at any time in future then you can retain your Oyster and use it again on your return however far in the future. Otherwise you can cancel your Oyster card and get any cash balance left on your Oyster or Visitors Oyster card. You can do this at ticket machines or at a Visitor Center. The machine will cancel the Oyster card and refund your deposit plus any cash left on your Oyster up to £ 10. For oyster pay as you go credit of more than £ 10, you have to request a refund by post. Refund by phone or post is not feasible for overseas visitors since the refund will be in the form a cheque & you have to pay the postal charges. So, don’t load too much credit on your oyster card. Load your card with some estimated amount you need during your trip and if required further top up at any ticket machine.
The London Travelcard is the original pass for public transport in London. lt is very simple to understand. You pay up front for a ticket which gives you unlimited rides for a stated number of calendar days. These days are consecutive and the pass is validated after the first journey. Travelcards are valid for calendar days, not 24 hours from when you first use. However, you can use your Travelcard the day after the last day if your journey departs before 4.30 AM.
A Travelcard gives you unlimited travel at any time on bus, Tube, Tram, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail and National Rail services in London. You can use your Travelcard to get discounts on fares for the Emirates Air Line and river boat services.
A Travelcard gives you unlimited travel within London zones 1-4 or 1-6 on all public transport services in London. You can use a Travelcard in the zones it’s valid for. lf travelling beyond that zone, you need to add pay as you go credit to your Oyster card or buy an extension ticket.
You can currently buy Travelcards for periods of 1day, 7 days, 1 month or 1 year. The Travelcard is a paper ticket that gives you unlimited access to London’s public transport for a limited amount of time, being the best option for the tourists staying 7 days or more. For a 5 days daily travel in London, Oysters and 7-day Travelcards are almost identical in price. A 7-day travelcard will save money on 6th and 7th day only (effectively free) compared to the Oyster total price.
Types of Travelcards
You can get unlimited travel in one day with a Day Travelcard (paper ticket):
Anytime Day Travelcards: use for the date on the ticket and for journeys starting before 04:30 the next day.
Off-peak Day Travelcards: use from 09:30 (Monday to Friday), anytime on weekends or bank holidays for the date on the ticket and for journeys starting before 04:30 the next day
Group Day Travelcard
Same as day travelcard but for a for a group of ten or more people travelling together.
Where to buy a Travelcard?
The Travelcards can be purchased at any tube station, tourist information stands, in the National Rail stations and also in certain newsagents. Depending on where you purchase the ticket, you will get it in one format or other. ln the tube stations, when buying a 7-day Travelcard, you’ll get it in a pre-charged oyster card.
You can also purchase it at any National Rail station. Here you’ll get it as a paper ticket with the National Rail symbol on it, which is important if you want to use the 2 for 1 offers for London’s top attractions. For 2 for 1 offers check their website.
Oyster Card and Travelcard difference and which one to use
The Oyster card is the fare paying system for London transport and the Travelcards are the travel pass for London transport.
For each calendar day there is a fare cap on oyster card (the maximum you can pay in a single day on public transport) and this is always less than the alternative 1 day Travelcard.
lf you use an Oyster card for 5 or more days in any 7 calendar days, a 7 Day Travelcard will normally be cheaper than using Oyster on a Pay As You Go basis every day.
So, if you are travelling for a week and plan to take the Underground from the city center to London Heathrow Airport at the end of your stay, load £ 5 of pay as you go credit on the Oyster along with the 7 day Travelcard, and all of your transport needs will be covered.
The London public transport system is divided up into zones that radiate from the center. Nearly all the major hotels and the main tourist attractions are in Zone 1. Heathrow Airport is in Zone 6 and the furthest zone is Zone 9.
London Underground Fares 2020
|Zones Travelled||Adult||Child||Peak||Off Peak|
|Zone 1 & 2||£4.90||£2.40||£2.90||£2.40|
|Zone 1 to 3||£4.90||£2.40||£3.30||£2.80|
|Zone 1 to 4||£5.90||£2.90||£3.90||£2.80|
|Zone 1 to 5||£5.90||£2.90||£4.70||£3.10|
|Zone 1 to 6||£6.00||£3.00||£5.10||£3.10|
Child fare is applicable for child between 11 and 15 years with an Oyster Photocard, else they are considered adult. Children below 11 years travel free when accompanied by a fare-paying adult. Peak fares apply Monday to Friday between 6:30 to 9:30 and 16:00 to 19:00, except public holidays. For latest fare check the Transport for London website.
For the vast majority of tourists, you will only travel in the two central zones 1 and 2.
Some stations like Earl’s Court are in two zones (zone 1 & 2). If you are travelling to anywhere in central London zone 1 fare will be applicable and for outward journey minimum fare from zone 2 will be applicable.
London’s red buses do not have zones. If you have a Travelcard for zones 1 and 2 you can travel in all the other zones as well using London’s red buses.
Although with a Travelcard you have unlimited journeys for a flat fee, the price you pay for your Travelcard is determined by the fare zones you want to travel in. The more fare zones you want covered the more expensive the Travelcard.
- If you are visiting for up to 5 days, oyster pay as you go card is good option for daily travel than travelcard.
- If you are visiting for more than 5 days, Travelcard will save your money for daily travel.
- Purchase your Oyster card after reaching London. Travelcard cannot be loaded on oyster cards purchased overseas (visitor oyster card) and you will not get the refund of £5 card activation fee.
- If you are travelling in public transport for only 1 day, use your contactless credit/debit card issued overseas. It will be cheaper than 1 day travelcard.
- If your bank is not charging for overseas use, use your contactless credit/debit card in London public transport. You will be charged the same Oyster card fare and get the daily/weekly price cap on usage.
- Planning your day in advance can also help you to save money. The Underground has two different prices for peak and off-peak hours. Try to avoid travelling on the tube between 06:30 to 09:29 and from 16:00 to 18:59 for the cheapest fares.